If I Was… In Charge Of Marketing The LPGA Tour
By Jim McNaney
The recent KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club showed the world the best women players on the planet on one of the finest courses in the country. One would think that attendance would be through the roof. After all, Minnesotans love golf!
While ratings seem to be on the uptick for women’s golf, attendance at this year’s Major was not what one might have expected.
Weather certainly had an effect on the size of the crowds but getting more people to watch both in person and on TV continues to be a priority for the powers that be within the LPGA.
To that end, Golf Channel hosted a round table discussion with the media on the Wednesday prior to competition. Featured on the panel were Michele Tafoya, Karen Stupples, Kay Cockerill and Jerry Foltz.
The conversation covered a variety of topics, but the majority of the session discussed why more people and more specifically women are not following women’s golf.
Cockerill, a former LPGA player herself commented that, “I think obviously we all were born and raised to follow men’s sports because that’s what was on TV. That was really the only thing, especially for maybe women’s golf and women’s tennis and the Olympics, seeing other women compete in sports. And I think I don’t know, for myself, I don’t tend to watch that much sports. I watch our local teams. I’m not as avid a sports enthusiast, and a lot of my girlfriends are the same. They like sports, but they don’t actually take the time to sit down and watch it.”
That statement is telling… and true. I have been married for 27 years and my wife played high school golf. My two daughters have or are participating in sports; my oldest just ended her softball career and my youngest plays high school golf like her mom. Getting any of them to sit down and watch any sports on TV, let alone women’s golf is like pulling teeth.
No one currently on the LPGA captures the public interest on a global basis. That’s sadly the ugly truth. All professional (or even college) sports are at their core entertainment. People want to be emotionally vested in what they are watching. People want heroes and villains. People want to be pulled in to watch.
The LPGA, at the moment, does not have a Tiger Woods. What the LPGA DOES have, are players that “move the needle” within their own countries. Lexi Thompson does indeed move the needle in the U.S. According to Jerry Foltz, “If Lexi Thompson was in contention every week, our North American ratings would be crazy.”
With the global influence on the LPGA Tour, each county pines for their own needle mover. That’s one issue.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not calling for the LPGA to go back to the days when it was really only a North American tour. The talent level with the global nature is far superior to days gone by. These players are so much better than previous generations and it would be a shame if we missed out on the international flavor. We never would have had the story that played out this year with Australian Hannah Green going wire to wire for the win.
What is needed is… unfortunately… a “Tiger Woods” type player with global appeal. I say unfortunately because those types of athletes come along once in a generation at best. They dominate their sport to the point that they transcend the sport.
Karen Stuppels pointed out that one that might fit the bill in the future is rookie Maria Fassi from Mexico. “I mean, no doubt about it, but you look at the image that she portrays around the golf course and on the golf course, too, like she’s got the aviator sunglasses on, she looks the part. She looks like a film star.”
But Foltz quickly and correctly put things into proper perspective. “Can I be the lone feminist voice here?” Said Foltz, “I hate the fact that we’re talking about her (Fassi) like that. Right now she’s a rookie on the Tour. She’s trying to make her way in professional golf. Jack Nicklaus was a huge needle mover, not because he had movie star looks or really cool clothes. He was the needle mover because he was the greatest golfer alive and could beat anybody. That’s how I wish our next hero, our next needle mover was judged.”
I totally agree with Jerry. What the LPGA needs is someone that dominates. Annika was close… as close as they have gotten since Nancy Lopez. The problem is you cannot just “create” that person.
They’ve tried. Michelle Wei was supposed to be that person. Injuries have put a sad end to that story and that’s the harsh reality with sports. Things don’t always work out the way we plan.
So what is the answer? GET MORE WOMEN AND GIRLS PLAYING GOLF! That is the answer. A bigger talent pool leaves more chance that someone will emerge as the global needle mover the LPGA needs. So if I were in charge of marketing the LPGA… I’d do exactly what they are doing now. Get more girls and women involved at the local level.